Yesterday my mother reminded me that this week is the deadline for signing up for the cruise my aunt and uncle are taking in August for their 50th wedding anniversary. This particular aunt and uncle are really nice people, and the other relatives who will go on this cruise are other aunts, uncles and cousins I really like. My parents just let me know they decided to go, although neither of my siblings' families can go, due to school, expense, etc.
I come from one of those families in which people in general like each other. So a family outing sounds like fun. I've had a sibling report that his in-laws' similar cruise was fun. They spent time together at dinner each day, but did not have to spend so much time together as to drive one another wild with the particular loathing that excess family interaction reportedly brings.
Still, my inner curmudgeon makes his appearance. I would love it, say, if the whole family had a Saturday meet-up at some drive-able location, such as Tyler (the Texas rose garden city, where they grown "yellow roses of Texas"), or Galveston (the charming older beach city) or Hot Springs (Arkansas' charming resort town in the mountains). In my image, we'd all arrive, say, on Friday evening. We'd rent a room or pavilion somewhere Saturday and have a nice chat and meal. We'd marvel at each other. Then we'd all go our separate ways. Instead, though, this plan is to meet at Galveston, and then hop on a ship for a week's trip.
A cruise is something more than a charming Saturday. This particular cruise goes to Belize, Cozumel and Merida, all places I'd like to see, and only one of which I've seen. But it lasts a week. I tend to take only a week's vacation a year, so this would pretty much have to do as our annual trip. The cost is not prohibitive, but it is 800+ per passenger, discounting any side trips. My wife made a valid point, as well. We've been on one cruise before, when she did a free lance article on the cruise line. We had a heavenly time, but we both gained weight. I do not wish to gain weight, and something tells me that the low-fat diet menu on the ship is harder to stick with than my "eat nothing fun" program on land.
The curmudgeonly part of me comes out as well when I think of how I want to spend a week off. I really value "getting away from it all". I like trips that involve hiking or biking or snorkeling in some beautiful place, where I can
stare off into the distance and try to recover from the stresses that attend my work. A cruise is a wonderful relaxer, but all the socializing is not what I look for on vacation.
The decision would thus be easy, but for one thing. My parents are in their 70s, one aunt and uncle are in their 70s. My mother's health is not good at all, and my father's health is imperfect. A cruise offers a chance to spend a lot of time with them. This is the tug which makes me want to go, a bit. On the other hand, I can drive to my parents' any given weekend. I cannot let my guilt about only getting home x times a year make this decision for me, when I can just visit y times instead.
I feel as though, sometimes, these decisions weigh down on me, because neither choice seems ideal. We may go, we may not, but I dislike that my own selection mechanism is crowded with personal guilts and petty feelings that make a decision more difficult.
Family things, even easy family things in a generally happy family, come with such baggage. I wish I had some tag line that I could write here that would make them all make sense, or make me a better person. I'm afraid, though (evidence of this journal to the contrary), that such tag lines are not worth writing. The baggage can't be left off at bag-check, to be picked up when one has reached a better destination. Instead, one has to pack and unpack it each trip, trying to figure out what to keep and what to leave behind.
We had originally planned to rent a place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, perhaps with my wife's college friends. We did that once before, on a charming perch-filled lake, and had a good time. Now that I remember it, though, my wife's friend's family was using this week as their family retreat. Her family was great, but I remember far too many evenings eating very mid-western dishes with too much macaroni and too much cheese (and, similarly, too much au gratin) involved. The whole communal thing, coupled with the grotty, rusty cabin beds, reminded me of why family is wonderful but very cloying. That basically good trip still instilled in me a memory that such family outings can be a bit overwhelming, even if it's someone else's family. Give me solitude, a good fishing boat, and ample worms over macaroni in a crowded room full of other folks' siblings.
My resolve, is, cruise or no cruise, to live our vacation trip with a kind of enthusiasm. If we go on the cruise, I want to take a cab to the Merida market, and come home laden with folk art. I want to ride the 5 dollar motorboat to Key Caulker in Belize, and snorkel in rich coral. I want to visit ruins that nobody ever visits, near Tulum, on little local buses that cost a dollar. If we do not go on the cruise, I want us to bike the high plains on that abandoned rail trail, or go to a northwoods lake and hike deep into rich woods, or walk the southeastern Arizona desert, watching for wildlife. I want to live as though vacation is not just another sitcom, but a living, breathing experience.
I also want to work through the particular piece of baggage, and come to peace that going or not going on this cruise is not the measure of whether I am a good son, a good family member. But feelings, unfortunately, do not disappear with the wave of a magic wand.